ANDOVER, Mass. — Raytheon has built a new massive radar development facility — complete with robotic helpers — to assemble and test its newest radars, but the facility’s design will take the company’s radar work well into the future.

Meeting visitors at the door of the $72 million addition to Raytheon’s Andover, Massachusetts, radar production facility is a small square robot flashing purple light, offering a verbal welcome before scooting off to its docking station across the expansive room.

The Automated Guided Vehicle whisks past an enormous, yellow robotic arm that takes on a life of its own as it inspects the side of an array with a laser, chooses a tool and a part, and gets to work assembling a component.

Raytheon will build its AN/SPY-6 radars under contract with the U.S. Navy in the new facility. The company brought its first array under contract there in June, only 18 months after the company decided to begin the project to build the new 30,000-square-foot center.

The development facility was partly driven by Raytheon’s need to build its AN/SPY-6 missile defense radars. It needed a larger facility and near-field ranges to test and calibrate the large arrays.

“The physical size of those would not fit the new radars that we had to build, that we had won the contract for,” Sarah Jennette, Raytheon’s program manager for operations at the Andover facility, told reporters there Aug. 2.

“We knew we had to invest, so we figured if we are going to invest, we need to do it smart. We need to not just do it for the next year, two years, but for 10 years down the road,” Jennette added, “so really thinking big picture about what are we needing to meet our customer commitments as well as future development, and that is where the radar development facility comes in.”

Now the Andover facility can handle everything from the smallest component all the way through to testing some of the larger radars that Raytheon builds before they are sent out to the shipyards to be installed on vessels, Jennette said.

Creating the facility

Raytheon used virtual reality simulation and immersive design to figure out what it wanted and to create the perfect footprint for its development center. The company has its very own immersive design facility at Andover, just down a few long hallways, and even used avatars to assess whether a hallway felt too tight or if a piece of equipment was too close to a wall, for example.

The ceilings are 60 feet high, which is twice as high as Raytheon’s next highest bay used to assemble radars.

“It was built this way because we knew would have demands coming down the road and wanted to make sure we were not limited,” Jennette said. Now, for example, Raytheon can stack arrays to build larger arrays like its enormous sea-based X-band ballistic missile defense radar that is deployed in the Pacific.

And the facility has a 40-ton bridge crane that can span the entire assembly area and is capable of picking up arrays, flipping them and manipulating them, she said.

The production part of the facility has several tall towers with shelves that carry a few days worth of parts where the shelves move up and down to deliver parts onto a conveyor belt to the AGV robots that pick up the parts and deliver them to the robotic arm. When the robot is done with its job, it just returns to its docking station to charge much like a Roomba vacuum, Jennette said.

The facility is automated in other ways as well to include sensors that detect where tools are in the room at any given time and secure automated tool chests that track who has checked out a tool.

The new space is also home to a much larger AGV that allows a radar array to move about the facility with ease. An array will move roughly eight times during its production.

An array is normally placed on air palettes that requires precision accuracy done by hand using people with lasers. The effort can take days.

With a new lift that has enough capacity to hold 50 tons, the radar can be picked up and moved onto a mobilizer. The AGV locks into the mobilizer and uses laser navigation throughout the facility to drive it and park it within 3 millimeters of its target in just minutes.

Across from the robotic arm assembling the first production SPY-6 radar are the 38-foot double doors leading to Raytheon’s largest near-field test facility — now one of the largest in industry.

The testing room itself looks like a science fiction movie set. The room is 88 feet long, 50 feet wide and 52 feet high, and its walls and ceiling are lined with 92,000 blue foam cones to absorb sound and prevent external sound from penetrating the facility.

The test range has a 1.5-megawatt dedicated power substation capable of powering up to 1,500 homes, which will allow for future growth.

Underneath the floor of the range is a 5-foot-thick seismic mass that was poured over a 12-hour period using more than 3 million yards of concrete, which was then wet cured over 30 days.

The first radars in the room

The first SPY-6 radar Raytheon is assembling in the facility will go onto the Navy’s newest destroyer now being built. The destroyer Jack Lucas will join the Navy’s fleet in 2024 and will have four SPY-6 arrays.

The radar is 14-by-14 feet and is 70 times more sensitive than the current radar installed on Navy ships, according to Scott Spence, Raytheon’s director of naval radar systems, who spoke to reporters during a tour of the new radar facility.

This means it can see much farther and can detect targets much smaller, “so as threats get more difficult to track, this radar has the capability to go do that,” Spence said.

To assemble the engineering and manufacturing development SPY-6 radar that was fielded in Hawaii in 2016, all 37 of the radar module assemblies — each weighing hundreds of pounds — had to be physically picked up and put into place inside small blocks within the array frame.

Now, a robotic arm will be able to do all of that with no physical strain to a human — and with improved accuracy.

Raytheon went under contract to build 16 arrays for four ships in 2017 and will deliver the first part of the first radar to the shipyard at the end of 2019.

The Navy is planning to build two to three DDG Flight III destroyers each year, and the company anticipates building radars to support that production, Spence said.

Raytheon will be back-fitting new radars on existing destroyers as well.

But future business likely won’t stop there, Spence said. Following in the SPY-6 program’s footsteps, Raytheon also won the Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar program, which will put a smaller variant of the SPY-6 radar onto aircraft carriers, frigates and other vessels, according to Spence.

The same production method will be used on those radars as well and requires a simple reconfiguration of the robot, he added.